As security checks, pat downs, flight delays and cancellations continue to add to the stress of global travellers, airport spas are increasingly garnering popularity among wearied passengers looking for some quick, pre-flight pampering.
Accessible to the general public as well as passengers flying business/first class of a particular airline, the trend is gaining traction across the Middle East.
International airports such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha all boast spas in their terminals.
While worldwide airport spa experiences are increasingly moving away from mere rewards offered to premium passengers to services offered to any traveller who has time to spare, the Middle East is yet to catch up with this as such services are mostly offered to passengers flying premium class and is only available through certain airlines. Unlike Europe and America, private spa operators are yet to enter the market in full swing to operate independently. In this region, most airport spa facilities are run by airlines in their respective lounges and are offered as part of premium lounge services.
For instance, Qatar Airways runs a luxurious 344-square-metre spa at its first class passenger lounge at the Premium terminal at Doha International Airport, the dedicated passenger terminal for the airline’s first and business class passengers. Spa, jacuzzi, sauna and massage treatment rooms offer passengers the opportunity to relax and unwind before they board flights. Passengers flying first class with Qatar Airways from Doha or those transiting through the Qatari capital are able to take advantage of the facilities.
Etihad Airways entered into an agreement with Six Senses Spa to create a unique wellness experience for the airline’s first and business class passengers at Abu Dhabi International Airport and London Heathrow. “Six Senses’ reputation for product and service excellence aligns well with our brand and that’s why we approached it,” says Peter Baumgartner, Chief Commercial Officer of Etihad Airways. The airline offers spa facilities to its business and first-class guests on a complimentary basis as well
as loyalty to top tier members.
Timeless Spa, Emirates airline’s own spa brand, is the only operator which also runs a spa at the hotel-level concourse for all passengers travelling through Dubai Airport, apart from running outlets in Emirates’ first and business class lounges in Terminal 3 of Dubai International Airport for the airline’s premium passengers. “Passengers in all classes of travel including those in transit and those checking in early, can access a wide range of spa treatments at the hotel-level Timeless Spa. Here, we are able to cater even to passengers of other airlines who can simply walk over from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3 for spa services,” says Albert Ng, Spa Development Manager, Timeless Spa. While Emirates’ first class passengers can enjoy a range of complimentary express treatments at the Timeless Spa, business-class passengers need to pay a nominal price for them.
Growth of the airport spa service industry
As airlines and airport operators realise the benefits of upgrading their services to improve passenger experience, the airport spa industry — which has its roots post 9/11, when airports began to have a tension-filled atmosphere owing to increased security checks — is poised for a steady growth. A case in point is the growth of XpresSpa, a leading private spa operator in the US which can also be credited for pushing the trend for airport spas across the globe. From just one spa in 2004, it now has outlets in 36 locations in 14 major airports across two continents.
Marisol Binn, President and COO of XpresSpa, says in an interview with TRDFM: “After 9/11, we found that people were really stressed and they were spending more waiting time in the airport than ever before. I saw a need for another amenity for passengers to enhance their experience. They didn’t need more food or magazines… what they needed was a place to relax at the airport.” This realisation prompted Binn and her husband to venture into the airport spa business and launch their first XpresSpa in New York’s JFK Terminal One in 2004. Last year, more than 810,000 passengers used its facilities in various airports.
The success of Be Relax, another leading airport spa operator in Europe, is also testament to the fantastic growth of this nascent service industry. Since launching its operation with a spa at Paris’ CDG airport in 2004, Be Relax now runs more than 30 spas in six countries, tending to over 500,000 passengers annually. Frederic Briest, the co-founder and co-CEO of Be Relax, says that it is demand — both from airports, who constantly strive to become ever-better hosts, and also from passengers — that fuels growth in the airport spa sector. “The demand for Be Relax is booming exponentially. We started in Europe and last year we successfully expanded our business into the US. We are looking at spreading the concept of Be Relax in Asia and the Middle East as well,” Briest adds.
While international spa operators start to explore opportunities in emerging markets in the Middle East and Asia, the indigenous brands of the region have already begun to enjoy accelerated growth. The spokesperson for Sri Lanka’s Siddhalepa Spa, which operates two spas at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in Colombo, says, “An increasing number of passengers are using our facilities which are fast becoming popular. Last year, more than 5,000 guests enjoyed our spa treatments.”
While one of its spas caters to only business class passengers of Sri Lankan Airlines, the other one at the BIA Transit Hotel is open to all passengers travelling through the airport.
“Spa facilities at Etihad Airways’ lounges have become hugely popular,” points out Baumgartner. “As more travellers are transiting through Abu Dhabi Airport — Etihad Airways flew 8.3 million passengers in 2011 alone — guests are delighted to have the opportunity to relax, unwind before they board their flights,” he adds.
The UAE’s popular Timeless Spa has also posted steady growth since it began its operation a few years back at Dubai International Airport. Ng of Timeless Spa says, “The airport spas were developed to enhance the travel experiences for those travelling with Emirates and those transiting through the Dubai hub. In 2011, 85,000 passengers used our facilities in Dubai.”
Specially designed treatments
With the aim of making travelling more relaxing for passengers and to ease stress that is inherent to most modern airports, spas specially design treatments for their clients. From facials, manicures, pedicures and body massages to a leading-edge oxygen treatment for the much needed brain-boost, airport spas can offer quick invigorating treatments to help harrowed passengers kick back and rediscover their inner calm.
Briest points out that its oxygen aromatherapy is very popular among its clients, along with all types of back massages. He, however, adds that the need for efficient treatments is higher in an airport spa compared to a spa located outside. “All of our services, for instance, are also available on an ‘express’ ten-minute basis for travellers who don’t have much time at their disposal, requiring high skills on behalf of staff to provide the same amount of benefits which a customer can derive from a longer massage.”
Ng of Dubai International Airport’s Timeless Spa states since they cater largely for departing and transit passengers who have time constraints, with only couple of hours in the airport. It offers a range of short treatments to ease travel-related wear and tear.
Six Senses spas at the Etihad lounges offer a mixture of 15-minute body and facial treatments, designed to relieve stress and tighten muscles, rehydrate and revitalise the skin and bring about an overall sense of wellbeing.
Unlike spas at town centres or those out there in the city, airport spas are mostly designed to operate 24/7 and handle flight schedules. Most airport spas also accommodate customers without appointments.
While women have always led the way when it comes to pampering themselves, of late men have also started to visit spas more frequently. Briest agrees and explains that though Be Relax has an almost equal male and female ratio among its customers, it is proven that more men use airports than women and they are increasingly embracing stress relief as well as relaxing and luxurious spa treatments at airports.
To tap opportunities in the thriving airport spa industry, skincare and cosmetic brands are also teaming up with airlines and airports. The partnership between Elemis and British Airways is worth mention, where British Airways customers can enjoy exclusive treatments and skin therapies from the acclaimed British skincare and spa brand at select airport lounges. The popular Icelandic skincare brand Blue Lagoon operates a spa at Keflavik International Airport in Iceland.
As airports worldwide increasingly shift their focus from merely handling passengers and their baggage and begin to pay adherence to non-aviation businesses such as dining, retail, beauty and wellness, the airport spa industry is poised to grow and could prove to be a vital source of revenue in years to come.